Directing duo Joseph and Vanessa Winter blend horror and comedy in this entertaining freak-out about a disgraced streamer who spends a night alone in a haunted house.
“I‘m Shawn Ruddy and I’m a piece of trash!”, says the chirpy young bearded man, played by Joseph Winter who, with his wife Vanessa, also co-wrote, co-directed, co-produced and co-edited Deadstream. His words are as good an introduction as any to this online influencer who, after seven years of facing his fears for the entertainment of his followers on the livestream channel Wrath of Shawn, has recently seen his accounts suspended and his sponsors fleeing after he carried out some attention-seeking stunts of highly questionable taste and morality. For all his wide-eyed, child-like charm, Shawn is a piece of trash – a craven, shameless self-promoter who will do anything for hits, even at the callous expense of others. Now that this minor internet celebrity is making a comeback, he knows that he has to do something big (within his limited means) to win back his fanbase. So tonight he will face his greatest fear – ghosts – by staying alone overnight in a remote abandoned house with a history of strange deaths and documented hauntings. And everything will be live-streamed with a multitude of cameras for an easily bored audience and their chorus of online commentary.
“In October of 2022, a beloved internet personality disappeared in a house near Payson, Utah while broadcasting a live event. A year later this footage was found.” So reads text that begins the live feed, only for the camera to pull away and reveal that the words are written on a T-shirt that Shawn is trying to flog as merchandise. Which is to say that while Deadstream, with its intradiegetic camerawork and its incursions of a local legend on reality, openly acknowledges its debt to Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s The Blair Witch Project (1999), it also declares from early on its knowing, irreverent approach to the whole ‘found footage’ movement, while updating the shakicam format to the era of monetised YouTube personalities like PewDiePie (duly name-checked here). Shawn is self-consciously fashioning his webcast as a horror feature, and has even recorded onto tape cassette his own accompanying synth score (“Shawn Carpenter’s Halloween”) for the occasion which he plays at dramatic moments – all of which ensures that there is an ongoing element of reflexivity to the Winters’ film, which, like Shawn’s, is a low-budget attention-grabber shot in an actual abandoned Utah house said to be haunted.
This couple’s feature debut is its own, supposedly real-time making-of movie – a poioumenon whose very artifice is repeatedly called out by a hilarious stream of online commenters who heckle, advise and cajole Shawn into becoming the star, victim or ‘final girl’ of his own sinisterly unfolding narrative. As Shawn himself puts it, “I’m thinking about producing a film starring me – you know, I actually think I’m good enough.”
Once Shawn has entered ‘Death Manor’ – believed to be haunted by its first resident,